Ever since Eve and Adam, there’s been no doubt that women and men are different. But over the centuries that difference has in some ways become more apparent and, in others, not so apparent. Need an example? How about medical research? It has been the norm for research on such things as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental health and others to be based largely on studies involving men. In more recent years, the understanding has arisen that what applies to men doesn’t necessarily translate for the healthcare for women.
Former First Lady Laura Bush and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center not only got on board with this concept, they created the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health in 2007 focusing on health-and-gender-based issues. Getting the results out from the Institute’s efforts, Laura and the Center’s experts have been holding meetings and activities throughout Texas. From the start, Dallas women were on board with the program including Lee Ann White, who has served as chairman of the national advisory board. Over the years such issues as heart disease, menopause, pain and alcohol abuse have been discussed, but on Tuesday, May 17, a different topic was presented at the Dallas Country Club — “Women and Sleep: Good Night, Great Day.”
With a room full of women including Lisa Troutt, Diane Howard, Jan Rees-Jones, Rusty Duvall, Kelli Ford, Jane Pierce, Randi Halsell, Barbara Stuart, Linda Perryman Evans, Marilyn Augur, Carol Seay, Linda McFarland, Elizabeth Webb and Libby Allred, Event Co-Chairs Jeanne Tower Cox, Debbie Francis and Lee Ann had James “Jim” Maas and Dr. Marjorie Jenkins explain not only the importance of sleep in regards to their overall well-being, but how to achieve the optimum rest. Originally scheduled speaker Janet Tornelli-Mitchell was unable to participate due to a family emergency.
First up was Jim, who reported on recent research regarding sleep. After polling the audience, he explained that most people are moderately to severely sleep deprived effecting their work, family and overall life. However, he pointed out that 71% of the North American populace does not need the usually recommended 7.5-9.5 hours of sleep a night. However, he did point out that most people overestimate the amount of sleep they get by 47 more minutes.
Having studied tens of thousands of high school and college kids, he flatly described them as walking zombies. The reason is that in order to be alert, young people need 9.25 hours of sleep each night, but in reality get only 6.1. Jim suggested that as puberty is taking place earlier and earlier in life, so the need for more sleep is taking place among middle school youngsters.
As an example of sleep deprivation affecting even high-level types, he showed a video of former President George W. Bush speaking with a middle-schooler yawning in the stands behind him. To be politically correct, Jim then showed a video of former President Bill Clinton dozing off during a Martin Luther King Jr. service. There were others, like Gordon Brown at the General Assembly and Margaret Thatcher at a cabinet meeting, who were caught showing signs of being weary.
But as Jim explained, it’s not just international leaders who show signs of being tired. He reported that 75% of adults experience problems getting sound sleep some nights every single week. That can mean either getting to sleep, maintaining a full night’s sleep, waking up too early or a combination of all three. Or, as Jim put it, “daytime sleep inertia. Sleep is a necessity. It is not a luxury, as we treat it as being.”
He felt that “the best predictor we have of life span is not exercise and it’s not nutrition, although they’re both very important. The best predictor we have is how well you sleep.”
Jim’s thesis is that “if you get adequate sleep, you’ll be in a better mood, more efficient, more effective and you’ll actually have some free time left over.”
Sleep deprivation leads to a significantly higher risk of hypertension, heart attacks and strokes, Type 2 diabetes, depression, influenza, skin and allergy problems, cancer, early onset Alzheimer’s disease and obesity. That last item caused a stir among the audience when Jim suggested that if people would get one more hour of sleep each night, they would lose on average of a pound a week.
And in keeping with the basis of the Institute, there is a difference between men and women regarding sleep deprivation. Women experience more insomnia than men, resulting in high levels of psychological distress, greater hostility/depression/anger and “obviously hormonal changes.”
He reported that blind women have 50% less breast cancer than sighted women. His thinking is that sighted women don’t turn off the light soon enough at night, and that “light exposure suppresses melatonin from being secreted in the brain, which will put you to sleep in the dark.”
It was recently revealed that when you lose sleep, you actually lose neurons. In other words, lack of sleep results in the killing of brain cells.
Prior to 1952, the thinking was that there were two parts of the brain — the awake part and the sleeping part. Then research at the University of Chicago revealed that the sleeping brain is much more complicated than the awake brain. At the point when the brain enters the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle, more than dreams take place.
He then surprised some of the audience by saying that anyone who says they can fall asleep immediately is actually starved for sleep. The well-rested person takes 15 to 20 minutes to fall asleep.
Within the first 20 minutes of sleep, the first stage of the night focuses on body and brain cell restoration. After 90 minutes, the first dreaming period of the night is underway. Everyone dreams every 90 minutes each night with that first dream lasting nine minutes plus or minus 30 seconds. Then one goes back down to the deeper sleep and every 90 minutes the pattern continues. And every REM period is twice as long as the previous. “So if you get eight hours of sleep, you’ll have spent as much as two hours in REM sleep.”
You are sleep deprived if two or more of the following applies to you:
- a boring lecture or glass of wine makes you sleepy.
- you fall asleep instantly at night.
- need an alarm clock to wake up.
- you sleep extra hours on the weekends.
- Determine your sleep requirement and achieve it every night.
- From puberty to 24, you need 9.25 hours of sleep a night. And due to the growth hormone the sleep period exists between 3 and 11 a.m. Thus, kids are in morning classes when they should be sleeping. His suggestion is that either the start time for schools change or technology be used to change their circadian rhythm.
- He told of a gadget that has been developed in France. Not available to the public until 2017, Dreem will be worn at night and it will accurately record your brain waves and it will put Stage 4 sleep rhythms into your brain. According to Jim, “It’s the first gadget that really works.”
- Regarding caffeine, he said that any caffeine after 2 p.m. would decrease your sleep by as much as one hour. Jim surprised the group by reporting that people would say they didn’t need caffeinated coffee, they had decaffeinated Dunkin Donuts coffee. Jim reported that in actuality Dunkin Donuts decaf coffee had 26.9 MG of caffeine for an 8-oz. cup opposed to the usual 3 MG of caffeine in normal decaf beverages.
- Other sleep killers are nicotine and alcohol.
On the other hand, instead of a Coke or coffee, have a “power nap” of 15-20 minutes in the afternoon. It’s a stress reducer, boosts your immunity and helps your memory.
In summary, he recommended
- Reducing stress.
- Set priorities in your life.
- Manage your time well, so you will have time for sleep.
- Eat well.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool (65-67 degrees). For people suffering from night sweats, he suggested trying Cool-Jams.
- Have a quiet bedroom. Jim recommended the Dohm to block out noises over other white-noise machine because its white noise is not a recording. (He stressed that he had no financial involvement with either Cool-Jams or Dohm.)
- Get a great pillow. A way to test your pillow is to fold it in half. If it doesn’t immediately open by itself, it’s a “dead pillow. Throw it out or put it in the guest room.”
- Bedrooms are for sex and sleep, not for watching television.
- Reading electronic gadgets like smart phones and iPads before going to sleep can result in luminosity, thus hindering melatonin. Jim suggests getting low-blue-light glasses. Or, just read a book.
- Hot baths or stretching can help.
- Yoga and meditation.
- If you toss or turn for 10 minutes, get up and do some light housework. It’s better than tossing and turning.
- Do not read work-related materials.
- Sleeping pills are not the answer. However, if you’re going to try something, Jim suggested Power Off. It requires no prescription, but is natural and not addictive.
He finished his talk with a story about a little girl who wanted to be a world-class skater, and how he told her to cut down on her workouts. She followed his advice and made headlines.
Next up was Chief Scientific Officer for the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health and Director of Medical Initiatives Marjorie Jenkins, who kicked off her talk saying that women multi-task more than men and thus require more sleep.
The reasons why women sleep less include having children, hot flashes during menopause, fibromyalgia and a bed partner’s snoring, restless leg syndrome, etc.
Just as Jim had mentioned, Marjorie reported that sleep deprivation results in various health issues and medical disorders.
She felt that one of the problems facing women is just trying to get to sleep.
Appealing to the vanity of the audience, Marjorie said that research showed that women who have problems sleeping age more quickly and have problems losing weight.
What does work?
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. For instance, Marjorie counts backward from 100 by sevens.
- If you’re not sleeping well, tell your doctor. It may be depression, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, a thyroid condition or other health issues.
- Medical resources — Vitamin E, ginger and other natural substances, Ambien, Prozac, etc., can work, but the resource has to be the correct one. Women experience more side effects from medications.
She stressed the importance of having patients make sure that their doctors hear the issues facing them regarding all health concerns, especially sleep.
Then Marjorie was joined by Jim for a panel discussion with Meredith Land emceeing:
- Is it safe to take Tylenol PM every night? Marjorie — It isn’t something that should be taken long term.
- Is it possible to get too much sleep? Jim — No.
- Thoughts on melatonin for children? Marjorie — That or any herbal medication is highly questionable, since their young brains are in the developmental stage.
- If a child is sleeping 10 hours a night, would an additional hour help? Jim — Possibly.
- What if you sleep four hours, are up two hours and sleep an additional four hours? Marjorie — You can have restorative sleep and there are some short-acting sleep medications. Ambien was changed for a short-term effect for women — Intermezzo — in 2013 that could be taken at 3 a.m. The question arose, “How much of that is going to remain in the bloodstream if you take it that late at night? They’re going to be driving and doing things in the morning.” They found that women had 40% more active zolpidem in their blood stream in the morning. In reviewing the 800 car events ranging from running over people to accidents with other vehicles, 80% were women.
- Where do you get that Litebook? Is it beneficial for adults as well as young people? Jim — Yes, it is fine for all. It can be acquired at Amazon.
- What about women who wake up and cannot get back to sleep? Marjorie — Reset your clock and follow Jim’s suggestion.
- What can you do about a snoring partner? Marjorie — Get another bedroom. Earplugs. He can try something about the snoring. Jim — We have an expensive technique for people who are sleeping on their back. You take a tennis ball and put it into a sock. Stitch the sock to the back of his pajama top. When he rolls over on to his back, he’ll roll back over on his side.
- Is it good to have a ceiling fan on at night? Marjorie — It’s good to have your bedroom cool. I actually have a fan on all the time.